Evolution of altruism: kin selection or affect hunger?

bridgecoverWalter Goldschmidt, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology from the University of California Los Angeles got in touch with us here at Neuroanthropology.net to give us a bit of a (friendly) hard time about unfortunate neologisms (touché) and to ask if we were familiar with his work. With my repeated posts on evolutionary psychology, he thought it might be of interest, especially his discussion of affect hunger.

What Prof. Goldschmidt did not realize is that I have an autographed copy of his book, Bridge to Humanity: How Affect Hunger Trumps the Selfish Gene (Oxford U Press listing, Amazon), and I’ve long thought it was both an excellent counter-argument to the ‘selfish gene’ hypothesis as well as a much more persuasive account of the possible evolutionary origins of altruism than the typical explanation: kin selection.

So, as a bit of a ‘thank you’ to Prof. Goldschmidt for providing such a compelling work, I’m going to post a bit of a book discussion here, focusing especially on Prof. Goldschmidt’s account of ‘affect hunger,’ which I find a much more neuroanthropologically plausible account of altruism than the usual account provided by evolutionary psychology discussions of ‘kin selection.’
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Andy Clark & Michael Wheeler: Embodied cognition and cultural evolution

The Cognition and Culture website has posted a link to the new edition of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B on ‘cultural transmission and evolution of human behaviour.’ I wanted to comment on just one piece on embodied cognition and cultural evolution, by philosophers Michael Wheeler and Andy Clark (unfortunately, Philosophical Transactions B is behind a subscription wall, although there’s a one-page ‘free preview’ [ouch] here). The Cognition and Culture website has the table of contents posted here. I was vaguely familiar with Michael Wheeler’s work before this piece, but Andy Clark (it’s not much of a profile) has written some of the work that’s most influenced my thinking about the effects of varied skill acquisition on cognition, especially his remarkable book, Being There: Putting Brain, Body and World Together Again (Amazon listing).

A ream of Clark’s papers can be found here. A review of Michael Wheeler’s book, Reconstructing the cognitive world: The next step, written by Leslie Marsh can be downloaded here. We’ll come back to Andy Clark’s work again in later posts.

I must admit a certain morbid fascination with how one of my favorite streams of thought — embodied cognition — would fare combined with cultural evolution — an area of scholarship that, well, to put it nicely, is uneven (before you get all defensive, let me just stop you with one word: mimetics). It’s sort of like watching one of your good friends get hit on by a sleazy guy at a bar. She looks happy, but you’re sort of cringing at the chance that she might actually take him home. In spite of this instinctual cringe, this special edition of Philosophical Transactions has some really interesting work on cultural evolution, especially because many of the pieces focus tightly on the enormously problematic issue of cultural transmission.

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Chicks dig jerks?: Evolutionary psych on sex #1

In our continuing exploration of facile examples of ‘evolutionary’ explanations for human behavior (usually described instead as ‘human nature’), I have another couple of exhibits: Do Jerks Get Laid More?, a great attack on recent research by Jill Filopovic at Feministe (h/t: Alternet); and Science Daily‘s story, Women Have Not Adapted To Casual Sex, Research Shows (which I’ll discuss in the next posts). Daniel already discussed some of the recent research on homosexuality in The Gay Brain: On Love and Science, but this piece, the first of two, is dedicated to recent ‘evolutionary’ work on male-female relations, especially arguments about what is ‘natural’ in sexuality including that all-important question, ‘What do women want?’

Some of the problems that beset these articles are pretty general objections a person could have to evolutionary psychology, so I feel like I want to go over them a little bit (but I’ll try to keep it short).

Why women like bad boys: ev psych explains

Jill Filopovic discusses a story, Do Jerks Get Laid More? Good news for psycho-narcissists, by Jessica Wakeman, which is commentary on a story in New Scientist, Bad guys really do get the most girls (a similar piece also appeared on ABC News). In other words, this story has been ricocheting around the Internets for a while, getting reposted and commented upon all over the place (such as here, here, here and, my favourite, here, where democracy confirms ev psych stereotypes). With all sorts of people having things to say, some share a bit too much about their own personal lives and some involve cueing up familiar cliches (‘nice guys finish last,’ for example, is a favourite).

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